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Army keeps hold on JCS leadership

Army, Navy, Air Force to have two vice chiefs each under reform plan


The Ministry of National Defense has decided not to introduce a system to rotate the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff among four-star generals of the Army, Navy and Air Force, officials said Tuesday.

The decision has triggered concerns among military experts who said that the military’s reform drive aimed at enhancing interoperability among all military branches appears to be eroding.

Calls for the rotation of the chairmanship to be mandated in law have persisted since the military revealed a series of shortcomings last year while dealing with the two deadly North Korean attacks that killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

“In order to guarantee the military personnel management right (for the president), we have decided not to introduce the system,” said a ministry official, refusing to be named.

Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters, “We have never officially announced the measure to rotate the chairmanship and that has not even been adopted as part of the defense reform measures.”

A presidential security panel made the suggestion to introduce the system, which has been welcomed by those who said that JCS military operations have inordinately been influenced by Army officials even when the JCS conducts naval and aerial operations.

Since the JCS was launched in 1954, only army generals have assumed the chairmanship except for one case ― Air Force Gen. Lee Yang-ho, who served as the JSC chief from May 1993 to December 1994.

“With the decision, efforts to improve ‘jointness’ will be undermined. The military could also find it hard to address the concerns that the Army has always been taking center stage in combined military operations,” Kim Jae-yeop, a military expert at Hannam University, told The Korea Herald.

The ministry also said it was seeking to revise a law to allow the Army, Navy and Air Force to have two vice chiefs. This has sparked criticism as the move appears to run counter to its efforts to streamline the military command structure.

“We have decided to determine how the two vice chiefs will lead each branch when their boss happens to die or be unable to work,” said a ministry official.

Meanwhile, the ministry is also seeking to revise a relevant law to allow those outside the military ― military retirees and even civilians ― to head military academies to bring in more competent figures to lead the institutions, officials said.

The Military Academy, Naval Academy and Air Force Academy have so far been led by three-star general-grade officers in active service in accordance with the current law.

They have served for one or two years due to regular or irregular military reshuffles, which experts argue have hampered efforts to stably lead educational reforms in the academies.

“As part of reform measures, we are seeking to delete the legal clause that allows only active-duty officers to head the academies. As the heads of the academies have been frequently changed, we are seeking to give chances to retirees as well,” said Brigadier Gen. Chang Kyeong-seok, director of the Reform Coordination Division at the ministry in a press briefing.

“The revision may allow civilians to lead the schools. However, we are not considering appointing civilians for the academies as of yet. With the revision, we will be able to allow more competent leaders to take charge of them.”

Military sources said that the government is seeking to submit the revision to the National Assembly next month and gain parliamentary approval for it by June.

The government has been considering allowing retirees or civilians to lead the academies since 2008 as it believes figures outside the military could enhance efficiency in the operation of the educational bodies.

However, it could not push ahead with it in the face of strong resistance from military officials who think those outside the military may lack abilities to manage military entities that prioritize security and national interests.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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